Fired lawyer calls Landry’s conflict of interest claim false | Courts

 After he sued the Louisiana Board of Pardons to halt a historic batch of death row clemency requests, Attorney General Jeff Landry fired the board’s lawyer over an alleged conflict of interest.

But that attorney, Art Smith, claimed in an interview Tuesday morning that no such conflict exists. And the attorney general, the leading Republican candidate for governor, himself now faces conflict-of-interest accusations over his decision to fire the opposing lawyer in a case where Landry is a plaintiff.

Landry said through a spokesman Monday that Smith had pending litigation against the pardon board and the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections. The open cases amount to a “non-waivable” conflict of interest that could hinder his ability to litigate the death row lawsuit fairly, he wrote to Smith on Sept. 26.

Landry told the Baton Rouge attorney he was dismissed from his position representing the board.

Smith said Tuesday that while he indeed has pending litigation against those agencies, he disclosed the cases to members of the pardon board upon his hiring. Board members did not view his open cases as a conflict during his hiring, Smith said. 

Smith said he also obtained both verbal and written affirmation from a private attorney who specializes in ethics cases stating that his open litigation did not amount to a conflict of interest.

“I wanted to be transparent about it, and I fully disclosed it,” Smith said.

Louisiana’s attorney general is required by state law to approve or reject lawyers hired by state agencies. Contracts between attorneys and agencies must be approved by the attorney general’s office, which reviews potential conflicts of interest and weighs costs, among other factors.

In his letter, Landry wrote that Smith had not properly sought contract approval and had skirted other requirements, making him ineligible to represent the board.

Attorneys from Sher Garner, a politically active New Orleans law firm that has represented both Landry and Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards in multiple high-profile cases over the years, were named as the board’s new counsel.

A Baton Rouge judge on Tuesday dismissed the lawsuit against the clemency requests after Landry aides and other prosecutors said they had reached a settlement with the pardon board.

Though they had opposed the lawsuit, lawyers for death row prisoners said the settlement was drafted behind closed doors and with the input of a pardon board attorney they argue was hand-picked by Landry to replace Smith.

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